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Paul Lefebvre - MP for Sudbury
Quality Inn - Sudbury
Tuesday, Sep. 18, 2018
Sudbury native at forefront of Sleddog Championships
by Randy Pascal

When it comes to the vast majority of sporting events that I will cover, I can attest to enjoying at the very least a casual working knowledge of the activity in question. That is not the case at all, not even remotely, when it comes to the world of competitive sleddog racing.

That lack of much more than even a basic vision of the event provided some of the fascination to a lengthy discussion, over the weekend, with Tegan Legge, project manager for the 2017 Winter Sleddog World Championships that were hosted in Haliburton earlier this winter.

But even more engaging was the passion that this Sudbury native held not only for this particular competition, but also the nature of her work itself, general manager of the Haliburton Forest & Wildlife Reserve.

“I took an Outdoor Education class at Lasalle Secondary, in high school, with Mr (Clyde) Sheppard,” recalled Legge, formerly Tegan Moratz back in those days. “I just fell in love with that class and got really motivated towards Outdoor Education.”

A two year program at Cambrian College in Nature Based Adventure Tourism would be followed by a life-changing stint in her current locale, pursuing a program involved with Eco Tourism Management and Adventure Tourism through Fleming College in Peterborough.

“Coming out of that course, I thought that there was just a lot of potential, right there,” said Legge. And through her current employer, she would find a near perfect fit. “We are a 100,000 acre privately owned property whose main focus is forestry, but sustainable forestry,” explained Legge.

“But I get to run with the tourists stuff, bringing people to the forest, educating them so that they are much more excited about conserving the forest. My passion is not just bringing people in, but also with all of the activities that we are doing with them.”

It was in this state of mind that the genesis for the recent World Championships would be formed. “I got an email one day, and I thought it was complete spam,” said Legge with a laugh. “It turns out it was a local athlete (Karen Koehler) who competes at these events. The email suggested it was Canada’s turn to host the World Sleddog Championships.”

The problem was that the mid-winter nine day competition fell right in the middle of prime-time snowmobile season, not to mention the countless other regulars of the Haliburton Reserve who might find themselves disrupted.

But for a German-based ownership group that had long-prided itself on thinking outside the box, dating back to the purchase of a property which Algonquin Park deemed completely decimated and of very little value, the opportunity to expose their regional treasure to a much wider audience was simply too much to pass up.

And what of their lack of even basic sloddeg racing knowledge?

“Karen introduced me to more people, and I liked to call them my advisory board,” said Legge. “We have lots of race experience at the forest, hosting running races and triathlons and all of these different things, but never with sleddog races.”

Joining Koehler among the core facilitators was Jim Cunningham, one of the foremost racing marshalls in the country. “This community of dog sledders is so encouraging,” noted Legge. “They came aboard, having just organized the 2015 Dryland Sleddog races in Bristol, Quebec.”

Though the top-end competitors in the sport often originate from the Scandinavian countries, making it more difficult to attract the European market en mass to a North American based competition, the support on this side of the Atlantic proved to be nothing short of exceptional.

“We ended up with 11 countries, but with the best attended World Championships ever,” beamed Legge. “Canada and the U.S. made up most of those numbers. There were 235 teams competing in 18 events, or about 180 or so individual competitors. And that’s just the humans. Dog-wise, we’re talking more than 800 dogs.”

“We had the traditional countries – Sweden, Norway, Finland – but we had surprise countries, one man and his dogs from Spain, teams from the Czech Republic and France.” Realistically, most folks, even in Northern Ontario, will have one point of reference only when it comes to the world of sleddog racing, and that comes courtesy of the world renown Iditarod race in Alaska.

In reality, these events combine a whole variety of different classes, from the “skijor” races, with a competitor on nordic skies being pulled by a single dog, over to the “pulka ski” segment, and on to the masses with teams of four, six, eight or even 16-dog teams pulling the sleigh.

Legge, for her part, looks back on the entire experience with an appreciation for a great deal of newfound knowledge within a world that she hardly knew existed, combined with an equally strong sense of pride in a job well done.

“One of our primary goals as just showcasing our world class trails, and we did that,” she said. “We had so many athletes afterwards ask us when we were hosting next. The other part that humbles me is how the staff at Haliburton Forest really pulled together – this is completely outside of their realm.”

“We’re snowmobiling,” Legge continued. “We had to widen the trails and make the corners different. The trails were a little icy the day before the event, but it snowed the day the competition started.”

The substantial workload, especially over the period of the races themselves, may not be ideal, but it did little to lessen the passion of Legge and her team, always on the lookout for the chance to garner more visibility with their naturally appealing product.

“We’re still recuperating,” she said with a smile. “But in the next four to six years, maybe we’ll try hosting a dryland championship. We have some new property, and we’re looking how best to develop it.” Sounds like a mandate that will keep this Sudbury native busy for a few more years yet.

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